Backpack Journalism is the new era journalism (I think it is also a form of jazz journalism), backed by technology and the media’s continuing desire to grasp stories that would be out of their reach normally, and reaching the station usually through the Internet. "Over the next 20 years, the content of the newspaper and the television news shows are likely to be delivered principally over the Internet." (OJR) One interesting aspect of technology concerning backpack journalism is the ability to stream LIVE coverage from extreme distances. It falls under the category of reporter-driven stories, whereas producer-driven stories would be breaking news and events, reporter-driven stories are “put together (via) a package whose content they essentially control from beginning to end.” (OJR) These stories may take weeks or even months to create because they are not timely, but are often a novelty including such reports of biting analysis, dramatic photos or interviews, and developed meanings not reachable through day to day stories.
Typically the backpack journalist, (or multimedia journalist, solo journalist, and "sojo"), will be self sufficient. He or she will have no other companion, untypical to the common reporter, they will videotape themselves, get their own shots, and put together their own multimedia story through Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Flash, and etc. The first batch of backpack journalists came out of Video News International, a.k.a. New York Times Television, in the mid-1990s. It is common for a backpack journalist to be a free lancer, Jacks of all trades and masters of none, finding their stories wherever they can, and selling them to the highest bidder. It is also common for major stations to have a backpack journalist a few hours away, or a day away, who can get stories not normally reached because of the distance.
Take for instance Preston Mendenhall, the lucky guy who backpacked himself over to Afghanistan before September 11, 2001. “The only reason he went alone to Afghanistan early in 2001, lugging all his equipment on his back, is because Afghani officials would issue only one visa and Mendenhall's boss was smart enough to say, "Go!" A few months later, the tragedy of September 11 occurred, and for a while Mendenhall's reports were one of the few close-up looks at that country available.” (OJR) “The two-week tab was about $6,000, he said. He captured audio, video, still photos, wrote stories and did standup. He edited and transmitted photos on his satellite phone. The tab would have come to about $70,000 to $80,000 if a four-journalist crew did the same, he said, including a video person, correspondent, producer and a sound person.” (OJR 2)
Another becoming backpack journalist is Kevin Sites. “Sites earned fame when he captured footage in Fallujah of an American marine killing an unarmed Iraqi in 2003. After NBC broadcast that video, which was later picked up by other international television stations, he was branded as both a traitor and a hero at the same time.” Sites has his own running multimedia, http://www.kevinsites.net/, where his mission is to report on every warzone in the world in the same year. Because of backpack journalism, on this web page he is able to explain all sides to a story, including his own story to his footage of that marine killing an Iraqi. He received hate mail and is able to respond to it online, typical reporters never get this chance. “How would Sites compare his sojo experience with his days with CNN and NBC? ‘An NBC crew would welcome me in Kathmandu as I land at the airport,’ he said. ‘Everything would be set up. But now I have to do all of that on my own.’” (Asia Media) Kevin Sites is a freelance solo journalist currently on assignment for NBC News in Asia. His research and information won't disappear into the ether that television, radio, and print do. There is not only the opportunity for feedback, but also for continuity. It is not the normal one-way storytelling.
Interesting related statistics:
- "Of those newspaper companies that employ multimedia journalists, 51% report multimedia journalists are working well, 38% report mixed results, 7% report multimedia journalists are not working well, and 4% had no opinion."(OJR 2)
- “McKinsey Quarterly--A January - March 2001 survey of unique visitors to various news and entertainment sites showed that almost one-third (29.5%) of broadband users and 17.5% of narrowband users are accessing streaming audio and video news.”(OJR 2)
- “NetRatings reports broadband access in the U.S. has increase 67 percent from 2001 to 2002.” (OJR 2)
These statistics show why backpack journalism is possible. Better technology allowing journalists capacity to create and send their reports from distances, and consumers able to receive them via the Internet.
As technology expands, there will be a positive correlation between the number of backpack journalists and the use of technology. I think that each station will probably have a ratio of 1:1, every one in house reporter they have, they will have one out of house (not counting anchors or news readers). Maybe there will even be more of the in between journalist who does half in house and half out of house. It is very probable that when the Internet can equally compete with televison that people such as Kevin Sites will be as famous as people like Lary King. The status quo would suggest that television will dominate for at least another decade or even two, but that Internet will dominate from that point on and backpack journalism will be the norm.
Other consulted sources: